The Man Behind the Radio: John K. Muir

Hello John.

JKM: Hi.

So. What is your title?

JKM: I am the Vice President and General Manager of Trent Radio.

What does being Vice President and General Manager of Trent Radio entail?

JKM: Oversight of the operations of an organization that holds a broadcast license and is, if I may say so, a kind of cool, far-out, funky, whatever, cultural organization in Peterborough and influencing the Kawartha Lakes area.

What is your day-to-day life at Trent Radio like?

JKM: Well, there is no real day-to-day. It sort of follows seasons, I find. I can almost tell—just by looking at the clouds, the trees, the kind of things programmers are wearing, the glint in the eye, the intensity of activity—where we are in the year.

That would make a lot of sense.

JKM: My job is, essentially, making sure that other people can do weird and wonderful things. My job is sort of boring, it’s administrative and technical, but I love it because it’s in service of those things. When I talk about how Trent Radio works, we give people the very minimum required to put them on the air, and then we put them on the air. We call that deep-ending.

That’s an apt description. Let’s talk about your management style.

JKM: Well, I use the management-by-getting-out-of-the-way or even running-away style. If a decision has to be made, and if it isn’t about money or what kind of floor wax or something, then I run away so other people can make the decision for themselves.

Plus you keep us stocked with coffee.

JKM: Yes. I just got another 18 cans yesterday, so we should be good until about Christmas break… maybe.

That should do. So, tell me John, when was the first time you became involved with Trent Radio?

JKM: 1975. There was a poster put up: “Wanna do radio?” I loved radio, but I really had no aspirations for radio, although I was involved with recording and doing production and I had aspirations for that. But radio had microphones and a studio, which was close, so I joined up. It was called the Trent University Radio Service and it had started about seven years before. We would broadcast on Sunday evenings, four or five hours of pre-produced radio, and we would do it in the audio-visual lab at the Bata Library. We had the A/V studio there from close of business until nine o’clock the next morning and all weekend. It was amazing and there were so many different people involved, and I think that kind of variety of programming was the thing that really got me caught in that idea of community broadcasting.

And you’ve stuck around.

JKM: Yes, I have stuck around.

So what has your role been at Trent Radio throughout the years?

JKM: Largely, I do things with other people. It may seem like I’ve done a lot, and I have, but I’ve done a lot with a lot of other people. Those people aren’t around anymore, but if you could put them into one or two people you would say “Wow, they did so much too,” right? From my personal point of view, I came back to Canada to learn how to be a Canadian. I’d been away, and there were some things that really irked me about Canadians. They whined a lot, they said nobody ever gave them a chance to do anything, and what was I supposed to say? I was almost a foreigner. So I thought, well, I’ll do this radio thing and sort of enable, and if they don’t choose to use it then they’re hypocrites because they’ve been given a huge privilege to do these things. Then just becoming aware of what the Peterborough community was and how amazing it was and what a great place Trent was in, and not just what a great university it was, made me want to open it to the community as well. I don’t know if I answered your question… I can’t remember what it was. It was just so much fun, so much to do, and such a broad group of people to work with.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of moving to the downtown space of Trent Radio House in 1985 from your on-campus spaces?

JKM: Well, the one thing would be more exposure. In a good way, that meant more people could come. In a bad way, that meant more people could come. And when the university liked us, they could own us—“oh, look at those great Trent University students, they’re wonderful”—and when we did bad things they could always sort of say “they’re entirely on their own!” But we had Peter Robinson College next to us, which was great, and there was an amazing bar called the Jolly Hangman, which was similar in some ways to Trent Radio because students who had bands or people from the community would all play there and it was one of those things that would break down borders. It was fabulous. Shame on Bonnie Patterson, is all I can say.

Ha. Now, in closing, do you see the future of Trent Radio in your mind or is it just a day-to-day thing?

JKM: I try to think about it, and I talk to people about it. It’s interesting because the people I think would be the most visionary don’t think about it. They think it’s really neat and they don’t want to change anything. So what I take from that is that we’re called Trent Radio, we have a broadcast license, but really what we are is a programming organization. People come here and do neat things. There’s an outlet for it, which is the radio broadcasting, which I think is really great. I’m not sure where that is going to take us. But I do know that people will want to strut around and pontificate and say all these things about what they think is important, what cool music is, and just follow some kind of track of self-discovery in terms of music or social accountability. So that’s really where I see Trent Radio going. I mean, it’s great to have a little office and some studios, but ultimately it’s always going to be about the people who want to come and join us, do neat things, and make exceptional programming.